Asbestos is a type of mineral that comes in a few different forms. All, however, are made up of very tiny, invisible to the naked eye, microscopic fibers. Asbestos was long known as a ‘miracle mineral’ because the fibers resist fire, heat, and a range of chemicals. Not just that, asbestos is non-conductive. As a result, it became a very popular material in areas where there was high heat, friction, or chemicals, including the automotive industry, railroad industry, U.S. Navy, and construction to name but a few.

The Danger of Asbestos

Asbestos, as it turns out, is actually incredibly dangerous, although only if it is disturbed and the fibers become airborne. These fibers can be inhaled and/or ingested, trapping them in the lungs and stomach, where they will remain for many years. The body is incapable of getting rid of them, although it will try by attacking the fibers with antibodies and more. Such attempts will usually prove to be unsuccessful and those who have lodged asbestos fibers can develop a number of serious, life threatening, conditions, including:

• Asbestosis, which is a form of chronic inflammation of the lungs. It causes shortness of breath and scars the lungs. Over time, it becomes increasingly difficult to breathe.
• Mesothelioma, which is an extremely rare form of cancer. It most often appears on the lungs (pleural mesothelioma), where it can cause breathing difficulties as well.
• Lung cancer, which also causes breathing problems
• Pleural plaques, which are deposits on the lungs. Pleural plaques in themselves are not necessarily dangerous, but they can lead to breathing problems.
• Pleural effusions, where fluids collect between the different membranes of lungs, again leading to breathing problems
• Other forms of cancers and pleural problems

Clearly, exposure to asbestos can lead to various very serious health conditions, almost all of which affect breathing. There is also some inconclusive evidence to suggest that asbestosis can lead to cancers of the gallbladder, voice box, bladder, brain, kidney, throat, and gastrointestinal tract. Research into the complete link between asbestos and cancer continues.

Causes and Risks of Asbestos Exposure

People can become exposed to asbestos anywhere, from their community to their home to their workplace. It has been used and mined since Ancient Roman times, but it became really popular in modern society following the Industrial Revolution. It was used in clutch pads, car brake shoes, ceiling tiles, roof tiles, various building materials, coatings, paints, plastics, adhesives, talc crayons, vermiculite gardening products, insulation materials, and more. Because it is now known that asbestos can cause serious health problems, it is now regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The majority of cases of asbestos exposure can be traced back to occupational exposure. However, there have been quite a few cases of seconday asbestos exposure, whereby people who worked in asbestos-rich environments brought fibers home in their hair and clothing. Furthermore, those who live near asbestos mines are also at increased risk of exposure.

While asbestos is now very well regulated, at least in this country, there are still many buildings and pieces of equipment that were built before those regulations came into effect, meaning that asbestos is still contained within them. This was shown, for instance, after the 9/11 attacks, when the World Trade Center collapsed. The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine has reported on a piece of research into the chances of people developing asbestos-related illnesses over the next number of years, and the odds are not in their favor, as a huge cloud of fibers was released into the air. It is suggested, therefore, that those who were present during 9/11 and who experienced shortness of breath should immediately seek medical attention.

There are a few things that will increase your chances of developing mesothelioma. These include:

• How much asbestos you were exposed to
• How long you were exposed overall
• The type of asbestos you were exposed to, its chemical makeup, shape, and size
• Whether you already have another lung disease
• Whether or not you smoke

Signs and Symptoms of Asbestos-Related Illnesses

Each case of an asbestos-related illness is unique. That being said, there are usually some similarities. For instance, breathlessness is common in all forms of asbestos-related illnesses. Similarly, all asbestos illnesses have a very lengthy latency period, sometimes as long as 40 or even 50 years.

Regardless of the type of condition you have, however, you can expect to experience shortness of breath. Generally, this will happen once the condition has progressed to a stage where it starts to affect your quality of life. Breathlessness can be life threatening, so you must know when you should phone an ambulance and when you can wait for it to pass.

Shortness of breath is equally common in all forms of asbestos-related illnesses. In asbestosis, it usually happens after minor exertions, which gets worse over time. A cracking sound may be heard through a stethoscope as well. With lung cancer, chest pain, persistent coughs, and coughing up blood can happen.

Unfortunately, the symptoms of asbestos related illnesses are all very similar, centering on shortness of breath. This symptom, however, can also be indicative of issues such as a flu or a cold. In fact, it is very common for physicians to diagnose a patient with a respiratory issue other than an asbestos-related illness, often a very minor one, at first. If you know that you have been exposed to asbestos, therefore, it is vital that you mention this to physicians so that they can investigate the issue more closely and provide you with the correct diagnosis and treatment.